It’s impossible to deny the things Jack White has done to help preserve the dignity and timelessness of rock ‘n’ roll. He began his career with a penchant for lo-fi wonder and gritty, no frills experimentation. As artists who rise to prominence often do, the sound quality and ego rose as the experimentation fell. Now I can’t say that White became afraid to take chances, because that would be wholly unfair. He broke up The White Stripes—the vehicle for his rise to fame—to pursue other ventures, not the least of which being his solo career, which was a pretty big chance to take. You never know how the world will react to decisions like that. But what became crystal clear following the dissolution of The White Stripes is that the world had fallen in love with White himself, not his extensions.
By all accounts and purposes, there recently has been a seemingly different Jack White coming to the surface, at least in the public eye. This is a Jack White who is going through a nasty divorce, a Jack White who is becoming polarizing with other big name musicians, and a Jack White who appears to be happiest when not existing in the present, but trying to relive an era gone by with expensive toys and lyrical ideas. These circumstances set the scene for White’s second solo LP, “Lazaretto,” and it kind of made being objective about it a struggle.
However, I’m a big enough fan of White’s catalog that I put away my knowledge of his Rolling Stone rants so I could focus on what he was putting on tape.
The first single I got from the album was ‘High Ball Stepper,’ and to be honest it did little more than irritate me on my first several listens. It’s basically about four minutes of White riffing and screeching noises. My first thought was, “This is really where we are?” The second song I heard was the title track. This song hit in a significantly different way. It feels like it could have slid onto The White Stripes final album “Icky Thump,” or with a ton of overdrive, something much earlier. This was classic White, and it was enjoyable. When I finally heard the finished product, it played out in much the same way my interaction with the first two singles did: a song or two I really liked followed by a song or two I didn’t. It almost felt like there were two people writing this album, and in some ways, there kind of were.
White is an artist in the public eye and a very private person. He’s a rock ‘n’ roll icon and a purveyor of classic country, a songwriter with a producer’s ear. White is a walking balancing act. “Lazaretto” is loud at times and calm at times, it displays many influences and styles, and like White’s recent antics, it isn’t devoid of messiness. Much akin to its creator, “Lazaretto” is an exercise in trying to find harmony between a bevy of inner and outer factors. “Lazaretto” is out now via Third Man/Columbia Records.
Track of the Week: Phox-1936
Sometimes a certain mood will hit me and I need to hear a beautiful upbeat folk song. Washington six-piece Phox assuaged that need for me this week with the release of their new single ‘1936.’ Their self-titled debut is slated for release later this month, so for now, listen to this track repeatedly on their Soundcloud page.